How to Beat the Submission Game

Dear Reader,

So you want to know how to get your work accepted by literary magazines?

Firstly, follow the directions. As tedious as it sounds, read every bit of the Submission Guidelines (Writer’s Guidelines, Submissions, Submit) page. I even encourage you to read any About page you can find. Study the mission of the magazine/website. Pay attention to the parameters given to you for submission.

Read material the magazine has accepted and published. Sometimes this is tricky, because magazines want you to subscribe before they’ll let you read anything. You can get around this by reading any excerpts offered on the site. Sometimes they will post a part of the piece to entice readers to subscribe. Sometimes they don’t. In this event, you’ll be taking a risk if you submit blindly. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t. There are some facets of writing that continue to be the darlings of the literary world. If you write realistic fiction of any kind, your chances of being accepted change drastically. Genre writers, writers who experiment with form and structure, and those who employ elements of slipstream and magical realism are at a disadvantage by submitting blind.

Now you’re probably saying: I don’t have time for this shit. Then, you don’t have time to become a writer. There, we’ve solved that mess.

But what do I look for when I read these magazines? Look for content: are these pieces largely contemporary or do they deal with historical moments? Do they deal with specific places? Look for genre: are there elements of genre in these pieces? Look for style: are these pieces voicey, traditional, experimental, long, or short? Look for sentence and paragraph length (I’m not kidding). Look for any repetitions of plot and theme. Finally, compare these elements to your own piece. Will your piece differ from the aesthetic of the magazine? If yes, don’t submit it there. If your piece seems to align with a good deal of the aesthetic elements of the magazine, submit it!

I’ll give you an example of two different places to submit: McSweeney’s publishes satire. From their blog posts, nonfiction pieces, to their fiction, McSweeney’s is an outlet for comedic (and primarily satiric) literature. In this case, there is no doubt. They are transparent in their intentions, and the work they choose to publish is easily identifiable from the rest. But not all can be distinguished so well. American Short Fiction is a more elusive beast. Upon a review of the excerpts from four or so stories, their aesthetic becomes more clear. They seem to prefer more traditional pieces of both contemporary and non-contemporary value (though they all feel nostalgic in a way). They also seem to prefer third person narratives. There’s nary a first person piece in sight.

Tips for cover letters:

Address the letter by the name of either the main editor (Editor-in-Chief) or the name of the editor that handles specific submissions (Fiction Editor, Poetry Editor, Nonfiction Editor). Be aware that these positions and the faces that inhabit them are ever-changing. So always check before you submit. Never assume the same person is working in the same area or at all. If you’re concerned you’ll get the wrong person (by some change in leadership) then simply put Editor. I’ve found by being a reader and also submitting my own work, that addressing the cover letter with the first name of the editor in question gets particular attention. At the magazine where I currently read, if a cover letter seems in any way to indicate a personal relationship with our editor, we are to flag it. Flagging it means it gets to the editor faster for review. As a submitter, my pieces seem to get reviewed much more quickly when I title the cover letter with an editor’s name (or maybe I’m just imagining it, you never know). My rejection letters also tend to seem more personalized (as if someone actually took the time to write it rather than copy and paste a form).

Your cover letter should never be more than about two hundred words – in my own personal opinion. Any longer and you’ve added unnecessary information or you’ve begun to sound arrogant. You don’t need to list the one hundred places you’ve been published. Only list the top three to five. If you’ve never been published, don’t mention that. If you’ve only been published once, make sure you do mention it. Never indicate the amount of times you’ve been published if it could be to your disadvantage.

Your cover letter should in some way indicate that you are grateful for the reader’s time. A short, “I’m honored (excited) to share this piece with you” will do.

If you’re an undergrad, don’t mention that. If you’re a master’s student, only mention it you have nothing else to say (some editors and readers are just snobs; it’s a sad reality). However, keep in mind that if you’ve completed an MFA program, that is a credit to your name.

Don’t lie. That’s really all I have to say on that.

I’d like to say don’t be boring, especially in your first few pages, but experience has taught me that boring is a literary genre and one that prevails in the publishing arena. Perhaps that’s just the consequence of preferring to write epic fantasy and science fiction – a story about someone brushing their teeth and contemplating existence seems dull. To illustrate my point: I once wrote two short stories (that are indeed realistic fiction), and I wrote them in the span of three hours. I didn’t even look back at them before I submitted (mistake). They were both accepted by the same magazine. Now, the story I’ve been writing for five years which is arguably speculative fiction continues to be rejected.

The world of publishing is a precarious place, both predictable and yet wildly unpredictable in its taste. Never become too discouraged by the onslaught of rejection. Simply become smarter about where, when, and why you submit!

Sincerely,

Alexandra Stanislaw

P.S. Devise is currently seeking contributors to examine literary magazines for their aesthetic preferences (think The Review Review). Those interested should email deviseliterary@gmail.com with a cover letter, resume, and relevant writing samples to apply.

Be Your Best Writing Self

After attending several readings of authors (among them Bonnie Jo Campbell and other award winners), I’ve learned that the majority of writers in my life are hungry for the answer to an elusive question: when is the most productive time to write?

The answer is usually: it depends!

If I were answering this question, I’d say the exact same thing. But it was one man who gave myself and my colleagues a real answer, a solid, tangible thing to grasp onto. His name was Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master’s Son and winner of the Nation Book Award. After an outstanding verbal performance of his short fiction, Johnson was asked what habits make the most productive writer.

He paused. He thought. And then he descended over a group of eager minds like a fabled savior.

Johnson said something the effect that when he was first writing, he would log the times, dates, and words that he’d write. He’d note everything in order to discover a pattern – all collected in a document as simple as Microsoft Excel. We were in awe, having expected the same answer we’d gotten many times – it just depends. In a way, this was the same answer, but told in a way that had opened our eyes.

It really does depend. But Adam Johnson’s advice is to find your own pattern and then to exploit the moments where you are most productive.

As we sat, staring at the mighty words of a mighty man hanging in the air, he continued. He said that when he tracks his word count every day – particularly the amount of words that he writes and that actually make it into a final draft – the days of missing writing are like missing teeth. They’re unsightly and leave you feeling bereft.

Motivation drives the success. There is no other way but to finish. Finishing needs productivity. After so many years of haphazard, thoughtless advice, Johnson has awakened us all.

Perhaps this is something we could have thought of on our own. But with all the ideas swirling inside us, wrapping up into our daily functions until are we nothing but decaying artists, it’s difficult to always know the way.

The Disappearance of Seth

This week in my literary quest to become a better person, or at least a better-read person, I’m visiting an author by the name of Kazim Ali.

On my bookshelves, Mr. Ali comes after one of the better modern authors, Sherman Alexie. I have a few of Alexie’s books, and I particularly recommend his short story collection Ten Little Indians. One of Alexie’s biggest strengths is his wide range of interests—he doesn’t just stick with short stories or adult novels; he has written screenplays and young adult fiction as well. Also, his technique is brilliant. He’s a writer who will make you laugh and care and think about the world—how unfair and how beautiful it can be. Yes, I recommend Sherman Alexie.https://www.flickr.com/photos/cuppini/522966079/in/photolist-NdkAx-py3r7n-go63Mg-4invaw-nVM9y5-ioVvTi-7oB47Y-3kGuk8-rb6u2t-i5uQt2-4G2RCt-5WDAmR-9L6oEF-9ZGBTo-dyPy9e-5UNJAW-gt4kTn-yLHgN-jyvi7p-wQuSJ-q3fBgd-fSGnXm-eJDgek-9XJxiL-ew5YuR-3Td2yS-rPy3MY-ezmJBR-r9Qr3L-4bLr7L-fSTii8-aqVmdS-pUG1nn-e989VL-2gALk-6PXp85-nEVaB8-48uECw-dR7hg-2c8JE-4r9DNc-ouFQBd-8CXt3q-JgGGQ-kyC9t1-d3Tj9E-6vZ7kR-4siW5H-ecah1D-s782T6

Another thing I should explain up front is why I’m reviewing a second book by Etruscan Press within two weeks (yes, the infamous Zarathustra Must Die was put out by them, too). Trust me, Etruscan Press is not paying me to review their books (I don’t know if they have the budget for things like that). The explanation is: a few years ago, when I was still an undergraduate, I won a one-page story contest for a great journal called the Penguin Review (shout out to their former editor, Tom Pugh), and part of the prize was the near-complete collection of Etruscan Press books published up until that point. Most of what EP puts out is poetry, but they’ve done quite a few novels, too. My whole point is, this is not the last time I will be reviewing one of their books.

I’m not saying that Etruscan Press puts out poor-quality books; I like their books, for the most part (last week’s selection aside). They are small and relatively obscure, but I think we need more publishers like them. Why? They don’t compromise. I get the sense that most of EP’s authors are full-time professors who, because of the fickle nature of modern universities, have to keep publishing, or else they perish. These writers don’t care about sales, but they do care about putting out a good product, according to their exacting, sometimes quirky standards. That’s honorable. I would love to have that option someday. EP realizes that literature is about more than entertainment—sometimes it’s about trying to wrap your mind around the things in life that are hard to understand.

Speaking about things that are hard to understand, let’s get down to this week’s book. The Disappearance of Seth is everything I was just talking about—uncompromising, hard to follow, daring you to try to understand it. And it still manages to be successful, being easy to read at the same time as being hard to follow. How does that happen? I have a theory: Ali is a poet, first and foremost—he writes like a poet, in clipped, beautiful phrases that sometimes don’t even make it to the level of sentences. He uses odd punctuation and weird tense shifts, and they actually work, most of the time. My theory is that Ali’s book is easy to read because he uses small, beautiful sentences and his section breaks push the momentum—this book is designed to keep pushing you forward, even if what you’re reading doesn’t become clear all at once, or at all.

unnamedMomentum is key in this book, because the plot is not linear, and it’s also key because of the subject. Seth is about 9/11. For something so heavy and humorless as 9/11, we need the pace to be quick, otherwise we bog down in our own sorrow and personal memories. Ali does a good job of keeping us moving, even though it’s tough for anyone to read a book about something as politically loaded as 9/11 in the way it was intended. And are we too far away from that day to remember it in all its rawness? I guess what I’m asking is, can this still be an effective book? If this were just a book about something as broad as 9/11, I don’t think it could, but it is about more than that—it is personal. The “Seth” of the book’s title makes it personal.

Our main character, Seth, has died in the Twin Towers, or so the other characters think. Seth is the thread that connects all of the book’s characters together, and really the only thread that connects the book together. The other characters reflect on how he has touched their lives, and what he meant to them, and how he has changed them. The book becomes a meditation on loss and how trauma affects us, and it becomes a meditation on the things we cannot say—how we handle grief. As such, it’s a beautiful story, if unclear at times, and the way that the death is only indirectly approached echoes how we try to avoid coming to terms with loss in our own lives.

Seth is thoughtful, deep, and potent, and Ali writes his characters’ thoughts so well that their reflections become the biggest emphasis of the book. These are thoroughly developed characters, never feeling anything less than real.

That is not to say that this book does not have flaws, because it does. Ali’s use of odd punctuation and tense changes mostly work, but sometimes this technique just comes across as though he needs an editor. Need an example? “He stops by a dusty car parked at the curb and fumbled with his map, trying to unfold it” (p. 175). Most of the time I try to leave technical issues like this alone, but in Seth it happens too frequently to ignore. Trying to figure out Ali’s reasoning in these cases distracts from the rest of the book, especially when these slip-ups do not look like artistic decisions as much as they do mistakes.

Another flaw in the book is the “twist” at the end, which I won’t reveal, in case you decide to read it. Good literature, I’ve found, does not need twists to make it interesting—the writing is interesting enough. This twist is not deep enough to change the meaning of the story, and it feels a bit tacked on.

Other than those problems, however, I gladly recommend The Disappearance of Seth. It’s for you if you enjoy difficult texts that reward your effort. It’s also for you if you want beautiful, koan-like paragraphs that you can really sink your mental teeth into.


 

Ali, Kazim. The Disappearance of Seth. Etruscan Press, 2009. 197 pages.

Each week Drew Wade will attempt to read and review a book by an author who’s new to him, and then he’ll tell you if it’s worth your time or not.

Where you publish and why

Where your work is published matters. Period. Anyone who tells you differently is wrong.

With the prominence of media and self-publishing as options, it can be daunting to know exactly where to publish your work. There are a few easy rules to remember.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/fdecomite/13286300615/in/photolist-mf4Lhx-7jZBWR-5P2CM3-8FwebZ-7jZZmD-97MiLa-4FqsHc-7k4jpY-bfMnnH-4nWSbL-5rWWgQ-bfMroH-bfMrhF-bfMr98-bfMnGx-bfMnzg-4R5XJ6-8c98Zt-4nWX27-7Fro7M-7JC4aQ-5Bi5dm-9vLKKU-4nB7pz-bPNSi8-64mivm-jhdng6-dBoANf-7dRG2d-7rnmaB-cMZGLd-4nSVjM-6eiQnd-6RPgM-aFniJR-4nSSYp-7JC6xs-7JC8ZY-8wt9E-9dAQEM-92Bik-g8yzPk-8RyKy2-4nGiyw-9gcxvv-5aE3Yr-a26aqX-4nGhYL-9TePEB-8Qt9W3
Discover Magazine April 2014

Self Publishing

This is when you pay for your book to be printed on paper and bound together into a book. This is also when you pay to have your text published in an online form such as an eBook. Any form of publishing which you do not pay to appear on the page yourself is not self publishing.

1. Don’t self publish if you intend to be the next Stephen King.

2. Self publishing can be done by anyone anywhere.

3. No publisher means little or no marketing. It also means poor distribution.

4. No agent could mean no one to guide your writing to the proper form.

5. No editor means that you may produce a piece of work with several errors.

6. Paying for your own work to be printed isn’t a career.

7. Be wary. Self publishing is for those who want a personal accomplishment not a professional one.

Online Publishing

1. This included blogs, website, etc.

2. Publishing online without a strong company behind you (like Time) can be risky.

3. Anything online can be immediately distributed.

4. Serious offers may not want to publish your work if they know it is already online somewhere.

5. Online publishing is a great way to get your opinion out. It is also a great way to break into journalism or to become a critic.

Publishing Houses

1.These exist for a reason. Because they are a business and have made money for a very long time.

2. Publishers have the funding to market your work.

3. They also have the funding to pay you.

4. This is the route most commercial authors go – with an agent sometimes included.

5. They have professional editing services.

6. They are willing to work with you to craft your work if you are already someone they feel has promise.

7. Their interest is an investment in you.

8. Having a finished piece is best to present to a publisher.

Agents

This isn’t a publishing avenue, but agents are important.

1. They have special relationships with publishers.

2. They understand the legal aspects of a contract – or they’re supposed to at least.

3. They only make money if you make money – and if they ask for anything otherwise, walk away.

 

Defining the Graphic Era

If you wondered whether graphic novel means a larger work of comics you would be correct. But life isn’t always so simple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First, let’s redefine the graphic “novel” and rather refer to these collections of narrative images as graphic books. The word novel implies that the work in question is fiction, which is not always the case (Dr. Rebecca Barnhouse, author of The Book of the Maidservant). Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a cleverly illustrated memoir of her own childhood. Wheres as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series is entirely fantasy.

Graphic books are either intended narratives that extend beyond the typical page number of a comic book and bound using a method other than the typical stapling, or they can also be a collection of comic books that form a sequence of a story and are also bound in a way other than stapling. The difference between comics and graphic books are relatively simple somewhat arbitrary.

The name comic book refers to a collection of picture panels that form a narrative. Therefor, what right do we have to call graphic books anything if not collections of comic books? This becomes problematic when we examine that I define a graphic book in two ways. In the sense that a graphic book is a collection of comic books bound in a different way, it is a comic collection. A book originally intended to be and published as a larger work extending beyond the scope of the typical comic book is still a comic book.

Unfortunately the word comic is associated with a number of juvenile ideas. The largest demographic for the purchasing of comic books are adolescent boys. Therefor we are hesitant to use the word comic to describe more serious works.

But each panel of art is in itself a comic. And each collection of panels is a comic book. And regardless of how it is bound they are a mutually exclusive idea. In the attempt to mature the world of graphic story-telling, we have evolved to use words that are exclusive to adults. You wouldn’t give your child a graphic movie or a graphic video game. The word graphic doesn’t just imply a picture of some sort. It implies that the content of what you are handling is somehow reserved for the eyes of an adult.

To embrace the new trend of the graphic book we usher ourselves into a new graphic era of literature. While some may be hesitant to accept the legitimacy of the graphic book they will very soon be quieted. We no longer live in a world wholly tolerant of information that isn’t quick and easy to access. We are a visually glutinous population of consumers. Literature, as everything else, must evolve as we do if it is to survive. Instead of holding this concept of literary evolution at arms length, we should embrace it as humanity once embraced the advent of the printing press. Sometime in the future, our quibbles will seem like archaic qualms to our descendants.